Someone asked me to explain the term a little more in depth.

K4 Syndrome is a term first coined by Gary Phillips.  It is an attempt to describe a condition common to people who attempt to find a solution to the fourth part of Kryptos.  There is very likely an analogous psychological disease but we’ll update this definition the day we find out what the technical terms are for this behavior.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • A very quick and obsessive fascination upon learning about Kryptos and the unsolved fourth piece
  • Upon the failure of the first initial efforts at solution, the patient continues past the point of failure in an effort to redeem the work they’ve already done.
  • Solution efforts get steadily more complicated and outlandish.
  • Communication with the patient or online postings by them become steadily more irrational and illogical.
  • After a certain period of time, the patient will either announce that they have the solution (even if it’s incomplete or gibberish) or seek validation from someone they perceive is an authority on the subject.
  • The patient can present their efforts in logical and well-presented ways despite the overall quality of the work.
  • The patient will feverishly seek colleagues or acolytes or any amount of collaboration.  The most common type of statement from this period is, “I’m so close to being done, I just need someone to help me finish.”
  • In the absence of validation or even in the face of convincing and definite contradiction of their methods, the patient will commonly persist in the same methods.
  • In the face of criticism, the patient will respond in kind or with an attempt at postmodern rationalizing.  For example, “You don’t really want it to be solved!” or “The answer to K4 is subjective therefore my answer is correct, for me.”
  • The patient will often spend time and effort disproportionate to their Kryptos efforts in an attempt to convince people that they are right or on the right track.
  • Solution efforts often include a re-hashing of cryptographic methods used in earlier sections of Kryptos.
  • Solution efforts are often predicated upon a clue or clues “hidden” in the cipher text or plain text of Kryptos.  These clues are often “overlooked” by everyone else.
  • The patient is often overly secretive about their methods.
  • The “methods” of the patient are often creative one-off inventions or elaborate many-step processes of manipulations of text/numbers.
  • It’s common for a patient’s clue to be a partial or incomplete word or coincidental arrangement of letters or words that have required apparently arbitrary manipulations, however extensive, to discover and that fail to produce significant results.
  • There is almost an ineffective social chameleon effect where someone finds some niche community, tries to blend in to the same interests, tries too hard for someone not willing to do more than superficial research to obtain familiarity with common terms, is left unfulfilled and moves on to the next fake obsession.
  • There are often fundamental misconceptions about what Kryptos and K4 actually are, the actual potential consequences of solution, who and what James Sanborn is, the actual involvement of the CIA and NSA and finally but most importantly about what cryptology and cryptanalysis actually involve.
  • In the absence of support, the patient will fizzle out and likely move on to other endeavors.  This isn’t a resolution of a type of behavior but a switch in focus or subject.

I won’t pretend that’s the final word on the subject but for anyone out there who has heard the term and been curious – that’s a passable overview.  It’s definitely a behavior that becomes more obvious after repetitive occurrences with different people and isn’t limited to Kryptos.  There is probably a type of subject or a type of community of hobbyists that draw people with this tendency but I won’t pretend to completely understand what those would be.

So let’s all keep each other as sane as possible and don’t forget: it’s supposed to be fun!